As Newsmonth went to print, the Union was preparing for rolling stop work action across NSW and the ACT in support of the working rights of members in NSW/ACT Catholic systemic schools.
Central to this dispute is the right to arbitration which Catholic employers suddenly ceased to support during a case in March this year. Further the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) on behalf of the dioceses used technical arguments in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to try to prevent employees from taking protected industrial action, the long recognised right for workers to withdraw their labour as a last resort.
While we ultimately won our case in the FWC, the employers by their action created long delays for IEU members who had moved motions to proceed with protected action ballots many weeks before.
The Union remains extremely disappointed that Catholic employers are taking such a view on workers’ rights, despite the advocacy for industrial action and arbitration by church leaders since the late 19th century. Australian bishops spoke strongly on these issues during the WorkChoices dispute a decade ago.
As reported in this Newsmonth, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus in her address to the IEU AGM on 21 October called on the IEU to join the campaign to change the 'broken rules' that deny industrial rights and foster inequality and disadvantage. CCER pays lip service to its commitment to workers’ rights, but with Catholic school employees it has persistently sought to not ‘change the rules’, but ‘exploit the rules’.
Protected action ballots
IEU members in over 500 schools in NSW and the ACT committed to the protected action ballot process with as Sally said all the “ridiculous processes” and “hurdles that tip the power in favour of the employer.”
Attendance ballot schools
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) agreed to conduct an attendance ballot in 69 schools across NSW and the ACT and a resounding 97% of these ballots were successful. This was an amazing outcome given the timing (early in Term 4) and the number of absent members due to leave, part time etc. There were also a number of problems with the roll. The YES vote was strong in all schools including the two that missed out on the 50% quorum.
Most schools were subject to postal ballots and there was a myriad of problems and a mixed outcome across dioceses. Slower delivery from Australia Post meant that it was difficult for members to receive and return ballots within the time frame. The AEC, which conducted the ballots, was unable to process the large volume of complaints and members were disenfranchised as a result of this. Multiple ballots arriving at homes during the same time also confused the issue. Still many schools were successful in reaching the quorum and we praise Reps and members for this achievement. Schools with disappointing outcomes will be invited to reballot and we are exploring private providers with email ballot options.
Resolution of the dispute
The Union made direct overtures to the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) to discuss settlement of all outstanding matters in late August, but the employers declined to engage in such a discussion. Instead they continue to threaten members with no pay rises and a non Union agreement.
The IEU thanks members for their support of this campaign and in their resolve to defend basic industrial rights.